I laughed. I danced. I almost cried. What a weekend. For the last few days I attended a conference/seminar/think tank/gathering of diverse people. I learned more from what wasn’t said than what was said. A lot of assumptions, institutions, and conventional wisdoms are about to shift. This is no longer academic. This gets personal.
It’s easy to imagine being deeply aware of at least one of the topics, somewhat aware of another, and have seen headlines about the rest. It’s also easy to imagine them colliding, which is why I spend time considering how they’ll interact; and what actions I should take.
There are advantages to living for decades. I remember the first Earth Day; watched a race riot sweep past me; am a political independent with friends at both extremes; have watched technology shift from slide rules to qubits, from isolated machines to a globally-interconnected web; and have been riding a personal rollercoaster through America’s wealth classes, from middle class to millionaire to muddling by.
Watch something daily and it can be difficult to see the changes. Thanks to My Triple Whammy, I involuntarily stepped away from years of these Gatherings. Working seven days most weeks makes it difficult to spend time and spend money while not making money. Thanks to a very generous friend, I was able to attend again (with the necessary interruptions to maintain my ventures.) Comparing today to five years ago makes it easy to see changes.
Five years ago the alarm about climate change was loudly ringing. Progress was being made, but the effort would’ve been much easier if we’d made the changes at that first Earth Day in 1970. Even then, some thought the need was urgent; otherwise, they wouldn’t have spent months or years organizing one day of awareness. About ten years ago there was concern that atmospheric carbon dioxide would exceed 350 parts per million. Now, it exceeds 410 parts per million. Glaciers and disruptive weather are proving the concerns to be more than academic. The good news is that electric vehicles, renewable energy, and the closing of coal plants are all happening faster than was expected five or ten years ago.
Five years ago there was hope in the fight against social injustice. Then, a major reversal happened. Progress is being made compared to the days of the passage of civil rights legislation, but it hasn’t come soon enough or gone far enough. Of all the trends to consider, social trends are the most likely to take generations or can turn on an insightful tweet.
Five years, even thirty years ago, ever since the rise of heightened partisan politics it has been more difficult to stand in the middle. Some of my conservative friends think I am far too socialistic. Some of my liberal friends think I am far too capitalistic. The parties seem to be more in favor of beating each other rather than solving problems. Early indications are that the next election cycle will be more rather than less chaotic. Of course, maybe we could use a bit of chaos before rearranging the rubble into something more solid.
Five, ten, twenty years ago, take your pick of time scales. Technology advances are so fast and continual that instant obsolescence is assumed. The idea of AI and robots running the world are assumed. People are turning over control of their cars, homes, and auto-corrected emails to algorithms that programmers no longer understand. We hope things work and hope things don’t run out of control. As uncertain as that is, the added control over our lives and the dramatic reduction in accident rates are enticing companies and people. To have a TV or a car or even a watch that isn’t connected requires buying 25 year old machines, antiques. Consumer purchases may shift to purchases by computers. Hello, Alexa…
Five years ago I was a few years into My Triple Whammy. Ten years ago I was looking forward to continuing my comfortable yet frugal retirement. Twenty years ago I had just retired thanks to following dull conservative financial wisdom: spend less than I make, invest the rest. Go back far enough and watch the rise from a lower income childhood that felt rich thanks to my resourceful parents, through college when it was affordable, to a career in aerospace engineering which I gave up when I had more than enough money and Boeing was laying off younger people who just happened to have families. In that time, wealth inequality has grown from the top 0.1% having less than 10% of the country’s wealth to now over 20% and climbing. Upward mobility is stalling as wealth accumulation is accelerating. Money is flowing out of the economy and into havens. Not sustainable.
The old rules don’t apply. Don’t be surprised that long term personal and societal plans need to be erased, or at least revised.
I assume climate change isn’t under control, that politics won’t suddenly return to running the country, that technological change will stop, or that wealth will freely redistributed.
I also assume that renewable energy will increase and pollution will decrease, that politics may shift to different power centers, that social injustice will reduce as awareness rises, that technology may provide more solutions than problems, and that unsustainable economic models will soon reach systemic limits that inspire change.
For years these issues have been academic and distant for many. The gathering proved that even just one of these issues could monopolize a community – yet, the other issues didn’t disappear in the meantime. Now, I am giving renewed thought to how I should act with regards to my personal finances, lifestyle, and expectations. What will these issues be like in five, ten, or twenty years from now. We aren’t going back, and never could. I ask myself how do we, or at least I, move forward.